October Reviews

Happy Halloween! I’m off to dress up like Batman (seriously) and take my little shark trick-or-treating soon, but here’s a quick rundown on what I read this month:

Evicted by Matthew Desmond
448 pages
This book chronicles the lives of several families, most of which are African Americans, living in poverty in Milwaukee and constantly facing the threat of being evicted. Desmond provides a look at the psychological, economical, and sociological factors behind their situations, showing readers how hard it is to break the cycle of the housing crisis. Once evicted, it’s difficult to find a new place. When homeless it’s difficult to find a job. When you are completely broke and without a home for you and your family it’s hard to be happy, resist vices and temptation, and thrive.

Verdict: This was one of those books that was difficult and depressing, but also important. I firmly believe in personal responsibility, but how can we as a society expect people who have absolutely no opportunities to even survive? And what about if that’s all you’ve ever known your whole life? We need to do better.

Running in the Family by Michael Ondaatje
203 pages
This is my third time reading this book, since I teach it to my IB seniors every other year. The memoir tells the tale of Ondaatje’s return home to Sri Lanka to learn about his family and find some closure. The memoir is uniquely constructed with photographs, poems, notebook/diary entries, and maps

Verdict: I enjoy this book more each time I read it, and  because of this I think the kids are more and more receptive to it every year (funny how that works, huh?). I appreciate Ondaatje’s prose, but also at the different components that fit together to offer different perspectives of his journey home.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
336 pages
Ng’s second novel looks at two different families living in Shaker Heights, a town that tries so very hard to be perfect. On one hand, we have the Richardsons, full of bright, well-adjusted, upper-middle-class, entitled people (minus one of the daughters, who we learn starts her family’s home on fire within the first few pages). The other family, the Warrens, is made up of just Mia and her daughter, Pearl (go ahead and start reading into the Scarlet Letter symbolism now), two vagabonds who bounce from town to town however Mia, an artist, sees fit. Mia rents a home from the Richardsons and their connection commences, becoming increasingly murky as Pearl becomes involved with the Richardson children and both families become embroiled in an adoption scandal that rocks the town.

Verdict: I have to admit to liking her first book better, but this one was still really intriguing and solid, in terms of writing and character depth. I still struggle a tiny bit at sort of the dated quality of the adoption angle, as it is a little reminiscent of a 1996ish made-for-TV movie of the week (although this is when it’s set, so I’ll give Ng that). It’s definitely a book I’ll buy a person or two for Christmas and one I’ll recommend to my students.

Roar by Stacy Sims
304 pages
This is an interesting look at female physiology, including body composition, diet, exercise, and metabolic processes. Sims offers suggestions on fueling, activity plans, and hydration needs for those who are serious about being active to those who are more in line with competitive endurance events.

Verdict: I saw a running blogger reading this and thought it looked interesting. I am extremely active, but I know that I don’t always fuel myself correctly and am horrible at managing my hydration needs. It was interesting on the scientific and practical levels, although definitely not for everyone (though it is incredibly accessible).

1,291 pages 

I Need to Think New Thoughts

I’ve always loved to travel, and while I have never been a globetrotter by any means, I’ve gone some pretty great places: Italy, the Caribbean, Mexico a few times, NYC, Hawaii, Minnesota (via a road trip that spanned eight or nine states), Arizona, Texas, Florida, and lots of places in Nevada and here in California. We couldn’t afford extensive travel  as a kid, so as an adult it’s been something that I’ve always enjoyed having the option to do, even when I have not taken advantage of it. Unfortunately, since having Sawyer, my travel has been limited to California and the itch to go somewhere new has been increasing. Why I didn’t jump on more planes for weekend trips before him is beyond me.

Meanwhile, in the midst of this wanderlust, I listened to Kristin Newman’s What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding, a travel memoir of her single life gallivanting around the world, exploring new places whenever there was a break in her TV-writing schedule. Near the end, she said something that strongly resonated with me, so much more than the fun stories of her flings and shenanigans. She talked about one of the reasons why travel has been so important to her is because she believes that we humans think about twenty thoughts, just in different combinations and with slight variations. When we travel, though, we are forced to ”think new thoughts.” And there it was. That, right there, completely explained why I need to get out of my comfort zone a bit: I need to think new thoughts.

The thoughts I currently think aren’t all  bad, but sometimes even the chocolate ganache or Hawaiian pizza gets old (two of my favorite foods, thanks for asking).  So, yes, while I love my son, husband, our home, my job, running, and making plans for the weekend, things can still get old. And the things I think about that are less enjoyable, like all the papers I need to grade, the chores at home that are undone, wanting to pay off student loans, politics, my loop of perpetual exhaustion, and those other unpleasant thoughts one can have, get even more mundane.  I’m also the type of person who thinks nonstop, 110% of the time. Apparently there are people that can zone out? I can’t even fathom the notion.

I need to think new thoughts.

My son is finally at the age, three and a half, where I feel comfortable going on a long trip alone with him by myself. He can happily wheel his own suitcase in an airport, responds to directions fairly well, is out of diapers, and is incredibly flexible. I’m not super psyched about the prospect of the car seat in an airport an rental car situation alone, but I can manage (my husband’s work schedule makes it hard for him to get away with us).  I’ve decided we are going to head to Banff National Park in July- my personal deadline is booking the hotel part of the trip by this Friday.

I need to spend some time alone, too. Before having my son I spent a few hours every afternoon alone after work and before Scott came home. I wouldn’t trade Sawyer for that time, of course, but the last few months have felt like a whirlwind of everyone needing me, all the time, and I have had some serious moments of real struggle. Between work and home I am “on duty” for about  fifteen or sixteeen hours straight every day and I need to breathe, alone, without people asking me seventeen things at once. Yes, I am alone responsible for my life and how I live it. I know. I promise I'm not trying to pass the buck. We recently finished Michael Ondaatje’s Running in the Family at school and his grandmother, Lala, says to have minimized physical contact with her grandchildren because she felt like her space was so constantly invaded. I don’t necessarily feel that on a physical level, but mentally and emotionally sometimes I do. I know some people who prefer being surrounded by people all day every day and some who would prefer total isolation, classic introvert vs extrovert mentalities. I guess I’m somewhere in between?  Anyway, in a few weeks, I am going away for a day and a half alone, up the coast (in the interest of full disclosure, part of the reason I am going is also because I need a night of uninterrupted blissful hotel sleep, too).

I need to think new thoughts.

I think part of the reason I’ve always been so drawn to reading is because it often is a wonderful substitute for travel- it too allows you to think new things, based on setting character interactions, controversy, and even writing style. Five Days at Memorial forced me to consider ethical questions that made my uncomfortable, dystopian literature makes me think about how horribly I’d do under apocalyptic circumstances, Crazy Rich Asians allowed me to pretend to be incredibly wealthy, and so on and so forth.

Whether you like to travel or not, I think it’s important that we all take Newman’s advice to some degree and figure out how to “think new thoughts.” Get off the hamster wheel, hit reset, and be willing to branch out. It’ll be good. I promise.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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1. I think the fact that I think a hashtag demeans things is a sign of my age. It's not going anywhere and can be a powerful tool, but I just can't help thinking that once something becomes one it's level of seriousness is just diminished a tiny bit. 

2. I've been running a lot lately! Sunday was my farthest run in a few years- seven miles. ALL ON THE TREADMILL. Seven miles at a time on my best friend is a little rough, and it took some serious mental willpower to get through. But, I think that's actually what I love about training indoors- the mental stamina developed proves to be essential on race day. 

3. I need to start fueling my body better- I eat well up until I get home for the day (example: my lunch every day is a veggie patty, string cheese, and an apple, but when I get home there's at least one or two handfuls of peanut butter M&Ms happening). I am extremely tired to begin with and I know my diet isn't helping. I'm not going to try a massive overhaul, but I just got a copy of ROAR by Stacy Sims for some tips. 

4. I'm also finishing up Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and after I got over the "1995 TV movie of the week adoption" component I settled in to love it. 

5. Today is Sawyer's half birthday, and while I didn't even tell him that was the case as to not confuse him, I had to reflect a little on social media. I love having a three-year-old! It is  such a fun age and I've loved watching him develop so much lately. His vocabulary and speech development has grown by leaps and bounds since going to preschool, he's potty trained, he pretends constantly, and he's always excited to go new places and try new things. Perfect he is not- he still wakes up once or twice a night calling for me for various reasons, he gets incredibly frustrated if I can't understand what he's saying, and he is still relatively picky (all normal, except maybe the sleeping part... wahhhhh). He's the best.

6. I feel like this weekend begins the holiday season, which I'm excited for. Friday night we have a Trunk or Treat at Sawyer's school, Saturday I'm hiking with a friend, Sunday morning I'm meeting up with a friend and her kids, and I'd also like to do some baking and pumpkin carving. Then it's Halloween next week (I'm dressing up! Ha!).

7. What I want to bake: Pumpkin Sheet Cake with Brown Butter Frosting. I also promised Sawyer we'd make some Halloween cookies, but I'd also like to do make croissants soon while I still remember what I learned from my class. I can't do it all! OR CAN I?

8. There are only two shows that I can say I am watching right now: The Good Place (with) and This is Us (without). We were watching Fargo, too, but that has to be put on hold because I can seriously only get through an hour or two a week. The good news is that both shows are both quite entertaining and enjoyable.

9. I just realized the Ready Player One movie was pushed back until spring of 2019, as it was slated to open agains the new Star Wars movie. Probably a good move. 

10. Last weekend Sawyer and I went to Temecula to a huge corn maze and a pumpkin patch. After an hour I had to use an emergency exit on the maze because we were very, very lost with no sign of an end (with increasing temperatures). We walked nearly three miles! Despite our failure it was still very fun and the corn reminded me of growing up in the Central Valley.

The Longest Week: Teacher Snapshots

[Fact: essays breed like rabbits] 

For some reason parent-teacher conference week is always insane. I don't feel obligated to have everything graded (I am not a magician), as I always have plenty of grades in my grade book to show how my kids are doing (as of right now, for about ten weeks of school, I have thirty in for each kid). It usually ends up that we're finishing one book and starting another, so the onslaught of end-of-the-book essays, tests, and assignments is ridiculous. At the same time I'm also prepping to start a new work, so the workload intensifies. We always have book club the day of conferences, since we can actually go out to lunch (typically we get just thirty-five minutes, which makes leaving campus is impossible), so I'm usually rushing to finish the book up to, and this week was no exception. 

I think there are many, many people out there that simply don't realize what it takes to be a teacher (although there are plenty who do). While we're at work our mental and emotional capacities are stretched so thin, needing to tend to several things and people at once from the moment we get there to the moment we can get out the door. While we're at home we have our own lives, but we also have to wrestle with the silent expectations that we will get done everything we didn't get to while actually at work. My contractual day is 7.5 hours, but I put in many, many more hours than that, on the low end eight extra, on a harder week nearly twenty (as do all of my colleagues). I'm not trying to complain, because I really do love my job and would walk on fire for my students. But the idea that it's all summer vacations, leisurely afternoons at home before those with 9-5s, and that we can "just give them all Bs" is just so totally wrong and frustrating. 

Motivated by some contractual issues we have right now with our union and district, and by my own love of seeing the daily lives of others, I decided to take some really boring, but really accurate pictures of what a crazy week looks like for an English teacher. 

[I start every single morning with a to-do list]

[that new Keurig is hard hard at work]

[afternoon meeting on things I already know]

[re-doing bulletin boards]

[when I swear at work]

[every single night for the past 10 or so days]

[it's always nice to meet with families, as much
as the lead up can be rough]

[trying to get it allll done before Thanksgiving break]

[we get to leave 2.5 hours early the day after
conferences so I took myself to lunch]

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

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It's parent-teacher conference eve, which means my evening is spent frantically getting my grade book in order, finishing the book club book for our meeting tomorrow (I do this basically EVERY time, I'm as bad as my students!), and trying to get in a stress-relieving run. Please feel free to link up below and enjoy everyone else's posts (which are always so great, but I suck at life and always read them on my phone, which for some reason makes commenting hard). 

The Reading Situation

What I'm Currently Reading:
Evicted by Matthew Desmond- This is for book club and while it's really important and infuriating, it's also really depressing, which isn't doing anything for my mood.

So many papers- This is typically one of the craziest weeks of the year for me; parent-teacher conferences always coincides with the ending of a work-of-study (this time Macbeth), so I'm buried. Imagine someone (me), being buried in the sand up to their nose, but pretend the sand is now essays and assignments. 

Halloween children's books- Sawyer has a few that he loves and he's super pumped to trick-or-treat this year, so we've been reading them quite frequently.

Articles on how much water sprinklers use- Fun story: I received my water bill today and it had gone up a lot. I panicked, thinking that we have a leak somewhere slowly destroying our foundation or inner walls. THERE GOES MY TRAVEL FUND. I then remembered we have had some sprinkler repairs, so I got swallowed by landscaping articles. An hour or two later my husband came home and reminded me we had increased our outdoor watering by two days a week. And there you have it. 

What I Actually Want to Be Reading:

Banff, Jasper & Glacier National Parks Lonely Planet Guide- I want to reserve the hotels for next summer in the next week. I need to plan and overwhelm myself with information! 

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng- I read about thirty pages of this and then put it on the back burner for everything else. It was such a tease.

Recent Acquisitions

The Accusation by Bandi- Stories out of North Korea

The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander- Clearly the political and social climate of the country and world are influencing my reading. 


You Are Not  a Stranger Here by Adam Haslett- This collection of short stories is quite old, but I had no idea he had written so much else!

Good Without God by Greg Epstein- Religion is hard. 

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward- All the cool kids are doing it.

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

[spotted on the way to preschool]

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Ten things I've done lately:

1. Went to Knott's Berry Farm with Sawyer and Scott over the weekend. It had been a decade since I'd gone and it was Sawyer's first time- we had a blast! Tickets are cheap if you buy them online and then for like ten bucks more than a regular gate ticket you can upgrade to an annual pass, so I did. The park is so much more affordable and less busy that Disneyland, so it will be fun option for Sawyer and I. 

[confession: I ate an entire boysenberry funnel cake at Knott's]

2. Bite my tongue, many, many times. Sometimes this is good, but sometimes I think I let people get away with things. 

3. Take Sawyer out cruising on his scooter. He's getting good! 

4. Have bad dreams. The other night I dreamt that I was late to a morning meeting and when I got to preschool to drop Sawyer off I realized I had left him upstairs with Scott and was two hours late to something important. 

5. Decide to take the plunge and book the lodging for our summer vacation. I hope to do it in the next few days and will do the flights later (we are going to Banff in Canada!). I always have a reason to possibly put off a large trip (intimidated by schlepping around a car seat alone in an airport, my financial conservatism, etc...). I need something super awesome to look forward to. Plus the idea of getting my three-year-old a passport is equal parts awesome and weird to me (I got my first one when I was in my mid-twenties!). 

6. Cancel my tickets to the Jennifer Egan reading next week, since it's on parent-teacher conference night. Womp womp womp.

7. Run and run and run. I have a 10k on Sunday and while I don't have major hopes of doing amazing, I am fairly confident I will manage okay for where I am at right now. The biggest issue I am having right now is the fact that while this hobby makes me feel fit and less stressed, it also makes me more tired than I already am.

8. Make very slow process on reading Evicted for book club next week. 

9. Bought a new comforter for the guest bedroom- my mom is coming in to town next weekend and my mother-in-law the weekend after (Sawyer will be in heaven! So many grandmas!). Guess where the comforter is? In the bags, on the floor, because there's so much crap on the actual bed. Sigh. 

10. Worry about the fires. The Canyon 2 fire is about thirty minutes away from us, so while we aren't at risk it's been so upsetting seeing people so close lose their homes and not be able to get past evacuation boundaries. The fires upstate are far, far worse and even more devastating. I think the common perception was that California would have an easier fire season because we had so much rain last winter. In reality, the rain catalyzed a ton of growth, when then naturally dried out during the hot summer. And here we are. 

Bookish (and not so Bookish) Thoughts

Happy Wednesday! Link up, link back, say hey!

1. I bought myself a little Keurig for my classroom and it way the best decision I've made in a long time. Why did it take so long? My room is freezing and I'm always tired- now I can be warm and artificially awake. It's a win-win.

2. I recently stayed Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere, which I am liking so far, but I think I will have to put it on the back burner so I can read Evicted for book club in two weeks. I've heard mixed reviews, so I've been dragging my feet on starting. 

3. I also need to start rereading Michael Ondaatje's Running in the Family, since that's what we're reading next, now that our study of Macbeth it finally over. I have grown to love the play, but we're approaching two months, which is more than enough on any work, as far as I'm concerned. 

4. I finished my last audiobook and was really stumped on my next selection. On a whim I downloaded What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman, a travel memoir. So far it's pretty entertaining and perfect for the car. 

5. This weekend is going to be a busy one! Saturday we have Sawyer's pumpkin patch for preschool and a community safety event nearby that has emergency vehicles on display (I have a three-year-old, free things like this make him very happy). Sunday, if the weather is cool enough, the three of us are going to head to Knott's Berry Farm. And somewhere in there I plan to make croissants, clean my house, run 5 or 6 miles, and grade 57439439573 papers. Gimme all the coffee. 

Now for the serious business:

6. Now is the time to talk about gun control. Actually, years and years ago was the time to talk about and act on it. Why the hell do civilians need assault rifles? Why would they ever need a silencer? Why do they need dozens of weapons? Fine, have your one or two shotguns after you've passed extensive background to go shoot ducks or whatever out in the country, if that's your thing. I'm not saying no guns ever. What I am saying is that we need some massive reform and we needed it years ago. 

7. Puerto Rico is a mother-effing mess and those people are Americans. And is now, when they're hungry and thirsty and dying, really the time to deliver guilt trips about the budget, which they contribute to financially? I think not. So stop throwing paper towels at these poor people and get them the support they need. 

8. How did the day come where Rex Tillerson looks... somewhat qualified? How is he the voice of reason? 

October Goals

October! Yes! September had some great times (apple picking, Tall Ships Festival, a cooking class, etc...), but some not so fabulous ones either (numerous colds/mild cases of bronchitis/a sinus infection passing through our house, getting more and more behind at work, etc..). I'm looking forward to the beginning of fall.

For those newer around here, every month I set a few goals and review those from the previous month. Some are book/blog related, some are not, but more than anything I just try to hold myself accountable and this has proven a good way to do so. 

A look back at September:

1. Prep for the week: Nope I did a few things here and there, but not consistently enough to say I truly did.

2. Keep logging calories: Yup! I was really good about this and have lost a few more pounds (because of this and running).

3. Organize book shelves No I'm scared.

4. Write down all personal expenditures: Yes! I did a really good job at this and feel like there are a few areas I can work on going forward.

5. Get rid of 100 things: Probably not Being sick two weekends of the month put a damper on things

October Goals

1. Organize the book shelves: Let's try again

2. Eat a lot of veggie burgers: I am horrible at eating vegetables consistently and I love the convenience of eating the Dr. Praeger ones for lunch, so I'm trying to eat them three or four days a week.

3. Run a 10k I'm pleased with: I have two weeks to go! 

4. Cross stitching progress: This is always first to fall off the radar when things get busy, which they are right now. 

5. No social media after ten of week nights: I'm not too bad, I'm not exactly laying in bed until eleven checking Instagram, but I need a hard and fast rule to help me make sure I'm getting as much sleep as possible.

6. Make croissants: This needs to happen ASAP since I don't want everything in my class to be forgotten. 

My next monthly post will be at the start of my favorite month! November is coming! 

September Books

I am definitely not sad to see September go! This was a busy month filled with getting acclimated to new schedules, back-to-school sicknesses galore, a general lack of sleep, the horrible news cycle, and everything else. Plus, October means one more "regular" month and we get into the holiday season with vacations and super fun activities. But, anyway, the reading. I read five books this month, heavy in the nonfiction department:

A Long Way from Home by Saroo Brierly 
288 pages 
My husband told me about the movie and said he though I'd like this book about a young boy who was separated from his family in India and ended up adopted by an Australian couple. He lived there quite happily for his childhood and young adulthood, and then became obsessed with tracking down his biological family, based on the memories from his five-year-old self. He uses Google Earth and is eventually able to reconstruct his old town, finding his family upon visiting.

Verdict: I enjoyed this story and was impressed by his abilities to use technology to find such a tiny village, but the whole thing was a little bit anticlimactic since the reader starts off knowing that they are reunited.

Macbeth by William Shakespeare
145 pages
This was a reread for work- you know the drill: Macbeth ends up making sure the prophecies of the Three Witches come to fruition. Blood is spilled, hands need to be washed, the woods move, and c-section baby Macduff gets his revenge.

Verdict: I think this is my fifth time reading this play and, like any Shakespearean play I read, I always like it more when the reading is actually done.

I Hear She's a Real Bitch by Jen Agg
368 pages
I wrote about this restaurant owner's memoir here

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas
464 pages
I wrote about this incredibly powerful story here

What Happened by Hillary Clinton
512 pages
I wrote about this depressing time in American history here.

(sorry for all the "click here" links today! I didn't realize I had written about so many books directly this month!)

1,777 pages